Hike & Fly with Angela Bonato, Giovanni Spitale
Giovanni Spitale and Angela Bonato discuss their Hike & Fly; powered only by their own means they reach point where to liftoff and fly their paragliders. An eco-friendly and sensible way to enjoy the mountains in these particular times. By Giovanni Spitale.
We grew up in Valbrenta, on the slopes of Mount Grappa, in the Veneto Prealps. A great place to grow up, if you have a curious mind and an exploratory spirit: in front of your house you have Padua, Venice, Verona, lands of culture and art. Behind, the mountains. First small, docile mountains; one step further on, however, the Dolomites await you.
If you grow up on the slopes of Grappa there are three things that attract you: the rock, the river and the air. Everywhere you look there is inviting limestone, with dozens of bolted crags and space for generations of bolters and climbers. Our river, the Brenta, is the training ground for countless canoe and kayak champions, including Olympic athletes Daniele Molmenti and Pierpaolo Ferrazzi. As for the air, the southern edge of the Veneto Prealps is simply a unique place, the Fontainebleau of free flight: a playground for pilots where you can not only learn the basics of paragliding, but where it is possible and relatively simple to make flights of hundreds of kilometers, even as far as Slovenia.
We left the paradise we still call home in 2016 because of our curious minds. I am a bioethicist, Angela, my wife, is a molecular biologist. We embraced the career and nomadic life of research, ending up - separated - in flat, rainy Manchester, in the UK; in grey Bochum, a mining town in the Ruhr, in austere Dresden where few vestiges of a glorious past, surviving Allied bombardments, live alongside the ugliness of post-war reconstruction.
We managed to resume our lives together in Zurich, where we both finally do the work we love, at an acceptable distance from the Alps, albeit on the other side. Seeing the rivers flowing north is something that continues to seem strange to us.
We believe that, in life, in work and in the mountains, it is necessary to do everything by playing and nothing for fun. Because playing is a very serious thing: it's the first way we know the world and learn its mysteries, an approach of lightness that, cultivated with care, remains a powerful engine. Here we found ourselves with a whole new playground to explore.
That's why we started paragliding: to climb mountains and follow chains, pushed only by our legs and the gentle and powerful force of the wind. It's called hike and fly, and if it was interesting in itself before the coronavirus, now it's essential. Not only when you climb on foot you are eco-friendly, and not only you can capture the landscape in ways that motorized vehicles don't allow. At a time when it is necessary - and responsible - to avoid physical contact with other people, this is the only sure way to conquer the take-off altitude. No cable cars, no minibuses, no car-pooling.
During lockdown we did not fly. First by choice, then by necessity. Paragliding is not a risk-free activity; we have many friends who work in hospitals, as doctors and as nurses. We've heard their stories of gruelling shifts, tears, sweat, life and death. We would not have had the heart to take an unnecessary risk - or rather, a risk useful only to satisfy our desire to live life as a game of exploration - by going to the mountains. From February to May we were locked in our homes, waiting for the storm to pass and trying to do our best to keep ourselves and the communities we are part of safe. But in May here, north of the Alps, things started to get better, so much so that the Swiss Free Flight Federation, in agreement with the health authorities, allowed flying again, after banning it since March.
Loading the glider into a van for the first time in months was great. A worn-out rituality suddenly became a promise again, like Christmas night when you are a child. Going up, step by step, sweating under the weight of your backpack and of months of inactivity: the price you are happy to pay, like when you push your skins on fresh snow under a sky so blue that it looks black. Spread your canopy on the grass, complete the pre-flight checks, feel your feet come off the ground: something for which there are no words.
If you happen to hang out on this side of the Alps and are interested in taking a hike and fly tour, we collect our favorites on this site: takeoffs, landings, trails, flight information: everything you need to know.
We can't wait to return to Italy to expand the cisalpine section of our database. But for now there is still to wait. The mountains will not go anywhere, nor the wind.